World travelers: RSABG botanists

Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden faculty and research scientists are a jet setting crew. Frequently on the go, RSABG botanists travel around the world for field research and to collaborate with fellow researchers. Here's a run down of recent trips by three research scientists.

Who?

J. Travis Columbus, Ph.D. CGU Associate Professor of Botany / RSABG Research Scientist

Where did you go? 

A colleague and I spent 11 weeks in Africa, traveling within South Africa and Namibia.

What was your most significant collection? 

I study the chloridoids, a subfamily within the grasses. This year was exceptional for its rainfall in the areas where we collected, which resulted in an incredible field season. I made nearly 300 collections from the large grass genus Sporobolus as well as from numerous genera that were new to me. My colleague made perhaps 200 more collections, many of Eragrostis (another large grass genus). I have discovered at least one new species...but, have not yet processed and analyzed all of my collections, so who knows what else may surface as the work gets done?

Tell us about one adventure? 

While in Namibia, I was sitting in a chair near our field vehicle one evening working on my computer when a black-backed jackal came sniffing around the rear of the truck. I had to shoo it away! To my knowledge, I have never collected among large wild animals. One day, I made my grass collections while a giraffe looked on. My favorite animals among the many that we saw, besides the black-backed jackal, are warthogs, rhinos, giraffes and gemsboks.

Anything else of special interest? 

The Africans that we met were wonderful—friendly and hospitable. While in northwestern Namibia in the Kunene Region we met Himba peoples—striking in appearance, a beautiful people who greeted us warmly—the women with ochred hair and the men with their bows and arrows. Quite fascinating.

While in the Cape Region, near the Cape of Good Hope we saw jackass penguins, which was a real treat!

Who? 

Hester Bell, Ph.D. (CGU / RSABG 2007) RSABG Postdoctoral Researcher

Where did you go? 

I went to Patagonia in Argentina looking for the chloridoid grass genus Distichlis.

What was your most significant collection? 

Previous work has established that there is a curious variation in chromosome numbers in Distichlis with some species having 38 chromosomes and others 40, as well polyploids [species with one or more extra sets of chromosomes] with up to 72 chromosomes. I want to learn more about chromosome numbers in Distichlis. But chromosome studies require living tissue. I was able to obtain a U.S. Department of Agriculture [USDA] permit to import live rhizomes from Argentina to the U.S. I collected rhizomes from four of the five species of Distichlis that occur in Argentina.

Tell us about one adventure? 

The plants, had circuitous, but thankfully successful travels from...Argentina to Los Angeles. Packed and ready for sending, my collection specimens flew from Mendoza, Argentina, to Buenos Aires the capital, to Bogotá, Colombia, to Panama City, Panama, to Miami, Florida, to Cincinnati, Ohio, to LAX! All within the course of one week!

Anything else of special interest? 

I made my first collections on March 11 and continued collecting until just before we departed on March 29. Most of these rhizomes survived being dug up, washed thoroughly, stored in plastic bags, driven around Argentina and many changes in air pressure and temperature as they were flown north through the Americas and now they are actively growing in RSABG greenhouses. Distichlis is tough!

Who? 

Erin Tripp, Ph.D. (Duke University 2008) RSABG Postdoctoral Researcher

Where did you go? 

I collected members of the Acanthaceae (Acanthus Family) in southwestern and southern China, traveling in Guizhou, Guangdong, Hunnan and Yunnan provinces.

What was your most significant collection? 

With my Chinese colleagues, we collected a plant that represents a new genus in the group of Acanthaceae that I study--Ruellieae. Together, we will describe this new genus in the near future. The collecting in Guizhou Province was incredible—subtropical virgin karst [limestone] forest—a very high quality, intact habitat and a very rare one on Earth. I also made several hundred collections of lichens and bryophytes, which I also have interest in. These might possibly represent the first collections ever of these organisms made from this area.

Tell us about one adventure? 

Following Chinese customs, everywhere I went it was required that I check in with the local authorities. As a result, a lot of my field collections were made in the company of members of the People’s Liberation Army or local law enforcement officers, and I was personally escorted to the collecting sites. Ergo, much of my collections was processed in the back of a PLA or other 4x4 police cruisers! I felt very legal, to say the least!

Anything else of special interest? 

One very important Acanth that I was seeking (Pararuellia) was found with the keen eye and knowledge of a local traditional Chinese medicinal herbalist, who knew both the area and the plants.